Striking Teachers: Progress Has Been Made in Talks Over Class Sizes, School Day Length

The striking teachers' representatives reported some progress in the talks with treasury officials over class sizes and the length of school days yesterday afternoon.

Secondary-School Teachers Association (SSTA) chair Ran Erez and Finance Minister Roni Bar-On met yesterday afternoon in a bid to reach a deal after negotiations between the sides collapsed late Tuesday night, just after it seemed a breakthough was finally within reach. Education Minister Yuli Tamir joined the meeting halfway through.

Erez came out at about 3 P.M. to tell teachers during the meeting that while progress was being made with regard to certain issues, the matter of a new wage agreement was still under dispute.

After two months of striking and a few hours before the back-to-work orders were to come into effect today, the teachers had trouble reaching a united stand. Some of them blasted Erez for the way he was handling the talks, for what they called zig-zagging and for blowing up the negotiations on Tuesday night. Others argued among themselves which demand was more important - the wage raise, reducing the number of pupils per classroom or even reconsidering the goals of education.

"So far the agreement does not fulfill our demands, especially about wages," a Jerusalem teacher said. "On the other hand, if the court injunctions are activated, the crisis will be no less palpable - feelings of humiliation and insult over the government's unilateral way of solving the dispute. I don't which is worse."

According to finance and education ministry officials, Erez walked out after about seven hours of talks because he had been slammed over the emerging deal from union members throughout the day. Erez, however, claimed that the treasury had reneged on prior commitments, first and foremost a multi-year plan for restoring teaching hours that had been cut in previous years. Government officials rejected this charge, saying they had not reneged on a single commitment included in the memorandum of understanding that the parties initialed on Monday.

"You must sit down until tomorrow morning and reach a deal," one teacher told Erez.